They’re going to beat QPR. They won’t mess it up now.
In the week leading up to the final day of the 2011/12 season, I didn’t genuinely believe for a single second that Manchester City were going to drop points against Queens Park Rangers to allow my team, Manchester United, back into a title race that had oscillated wildly all campaign.
Even during United’s final engagement of the season, at Sunderland, City dropping points wasn’t really on my mind. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side played abysmally at the Stadium of Light that day, especially in the second half; to the extent that my overriding fear was that on a day when we simply had to win, we wouldn’t even do our job.
Of course the final day of the 2011/12 season was billed as the title decider but it wasn’t won and lost on that dramatic May afternoon. Not really.
Losing 6-1 at home to City in October 2011 was humiliating. They had been threatening to become Manchester’s dominant force for a few years, but we’d managed to keep them at arm’s length until that day.
The previous year, they beat us to win the FA Cup semi-final and defeated Stoke to win their first pot of the nouveau-riche era but we’d already clinched our record 19th Premier League title earlier on the day they ran out Wembley winners. But we were only delaying the inevitable.
The 6-1 was a watershed moment for the footballing landscape in Manchester but in practical terms, United lost the league by an eight-goal goal difference margin; there was a ten-goal swing that day.
The title was also lost in the 4-4 draw at home to Everton, the 1-0 loss at Wigan, playing for a draw at the Etihad, bringing Ji-Sung Park in from the cold only to be swatted aside 1-0 without even threatening their goal.
United had the title in the palm of their hands – an eight point lead with eight games to go – and they had blown it.
QPR were fighting for their lives but were a team full of overpaid journeymen. City’s momentum felt unstoppable. They weren’t going to lose.
I still believed that until the final whistle went at Sunderland. The second half had been so stressful that for the final 20 minutes, I had genuinely forgotten that City were still losing.
As United’s game finished, escaping with a slender 1-0 win, the realisation absolutely slapped me in the face. That lot were still losing. Our game had stoppage time and had just finished. There couldn’t be enough time left for them to score two more.
We’re going to do it. We’re going to keep them at arm’s length again. Maybe City were destined to be noisy neighbours forever, with United constantly finding ways to better their achievements.
“Turn the channel over, I want to see their faces when they throw the league away.”
It’s a horrible sentiment in the cold light of day but imagine the schadenfreude of seeing your bitter local rivals, with their stadium packed full of fans who arrived expecting a party only to see their hopes of a first league title since 1968 disappear before their eyes and try your best to forgive me.
Edin Dzeko heads home just before the channel changed but they still need one more. It adds to the nerves but there can’t still be time for them to score another.
Of course there was. After years of Fergie time, I suppose we were long overdue to be on the wrong side of a devastating late knockout blow.
The ball makes its way forward and as soon as Martin Tyler says “Balotelli”, I’m once again certain City will beat QPR. The sense that they were going to be ‘Typical City’ and mess it up can only have lasted two minutes. It’s the hope that kills you.
It comes to Aguero and time slows down. It feels like he has an eternity to pick his spot. Even I would score this. It feels as if there’s an enormous queue behind the Argentine waiting to slot home.
The only thing that feels longer than the line of players waiting to fire the ball home and crown City as champions is the amount of time Tyler says “Agueroooooo” for as the ball hits the net.
We had an eight-point lead and gave it away. Their greatest ever triumph has come in Fergie time; and for all our late escapades, theirs is the defining last-gasp drama of the Premier League era.
It is the most intense, stomach-wrenching disappointment I have ever felt as a football fan.
I’m fully aware that given the plight of clubs such as Coventry City, Sunderland, Leeds United, Blackpool – the list goes on – coming second in the Premier League being the worst feeling I’ve experienced supporting my club makes me a spoilt Manchester United fan. But it didn’t help in the moment.
It felt worse because you knew what was coming. City had the resources, players and momentum to go on and become the force they are today but they lacked the belief. That first Premier League was always going to give it to them and the manner in which it came would only add to their confidence.
We had to carry on outstripping them; beating them 4-3 in stoppage time, seeing their FA Cup and raising them the Premier League but for the first time, we had been unable to.
“I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again,” says Tyler. I should bloody hope not.